Quantifying rates of climate change in mountain regions is of considerable interest, not least because mountains are viewed as climate “hotspots” where change can anticipate or amplify what is occurring elsewhere. Accelerating mountain climate change has extensive environmental impacts, including depletion of snow/ice reserves, critical for the world’s water supply. Whilst the concept of elevation-dependent warming (EDW), whereby warming rates are stratified by elevation, is widely accepted, no consistent EDW profile at the global scale has been identified. Past assessments have also neglected elevation-dependent changes in precipitation. In this comprehensive analysis, both in situ station temperature and precipitation data from mountain regions, and global gridded datasets (observations, reanalyses and model hindcasts) are employed to examine the elevation dependency of temperature and precipitation changes since 1900. In situ observations in paired studies (using adjacent stations) show a tendency towards enhanced warming at higher elevations. However, when all mountain/lowland studies are pooled into two groups, no systematic difference in high vs. low elevation group warming rates is found. Precipitation changes based on station data are inconsistent with no systematic contrast between mountain and lowland precipitation trends. Gridded datasets (CRU, GISTEMP, GPCC, ERA5, CMIP5) show increased warming rates at higher elevations in some regions, but on a global scale there is no universal amplification of warming in mountains. Increases in mountain precipitation are weaker than for low elevations worldwide, meaning reduced elevation-dependency of precipitation, especially in mid-latitudes. Agreement on elevation-dependent changes between gridded datasets is weak for temperature but stronger for precipitation.
- lapse rate
- orographic precipitation gradient
- high elevation